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How To Read Large Amounts Of Text Efficiently

Author: Pencil Case  Date: 22 August 2019

Cut the reading = Cut the time

Reading less does not mean you are studying less effectively. At University I had to read between 200 and 500 pages of text books a week. I couldn't do it, it was way too much. I had to economise and only read the essesntial material.

Tackling text books

Have you ever heard the phrase "success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration"? Well I find that most books are the same. They are 10% valuable information and 90% filler material that adds very little to the overall message or knowledge base of the book. I did an experiment once where I bought a text book and I read the first paragraph of every section. I then read the book in its entirety and you know what, I learnt very little extra. When a text book is written it summarises the information in the first paragraph or two of each section or chapter. Reading the first paragraph gives you an excellent overview of the information. Of course to develop deeped understanding you may have to read some sections in more depth.

The key to reading text books is to read the smallest amount possible but read it really well. This becomes particularly important for those of you that are thinking of going to university. At university you complete between 3 and 9 units per semester. For each of these units you will be expected to read a 50ish page chapter of a text book plus a range of other articles, notes and readers. This is in addition to assignments, extra study, test and exam prep, oral presentations, tutorial work, case studies and group assignments. The workload is immense and only a select few with extraordinary dedication and skills can do everything that is asked of them. It is by far more sensible to stick to the things you really need to know and do the rest if you have time.

How to cut down your reading

Effective reading is all about knowing what it is you need to read. Your teacher will often say to you "this week we are going to learn about inertia or the tendency of an object to keep doing the same thing until another force acts upon it. I want you to read chapter 6 in your text book." You look at your text book and you notice that chapter 6 is about inertia and momentum. You have a choice - you can spend 3 hours and read the entire chapter or you could spend the same amount of time and read the section on inertia twice, or you could just read the section on inertia and save 1.5 hours for other things. It does not make you a good student because you read the whole chapter. What makes you a good student is being full bottle on the material you will be assessed on.

All study text books have a standard structure and this structure is designed to help you find the information you need and avoid the unnecessary waffle. Always start at the back of the chapter in the summary section for the chapter on inertia. What this does is it focuses your mind into thinking physics and gets it primed to absorb more information.

Now that you know the basic key words from the chapter you can head to the start of the chapter. All text books have chapters that are broken up into smaller sections with subheadings usually in bold at the top of each section. These sub headings also have structure. The first paragraph of each sub heading is designed to let you know what that sub section is all about. The key to cutting down your reading is to only read the first paragraph of each sub heading and then make a decision by asking the question "from paragraph one does it seem that this sub section contains information I need to know right now?" If the answer is yes, put a tick next to or highlight the sub heading to remind you that that sub section is important and requires reading properly. If the section is irrelevant to you leave it blank. After you read the first paragraph of the first sub section repeat this process for all sub headings in the chapter you are reading.

Once you have read all the first paragraphs or all the sections, go back to the start of the chapter and only read those that are directly relevant to you right now and skip the rest. If you have time, by all means read the rest but read the most valuable ones first.

The three times rule for reading

The three times rule for reading works on achieving the most with the amount of reading time and motivation that you have.

The first time - Speed read a section of text using the methods discussed above. This will allow you to absorb vast amounts in the shortest possible time.

The second time - Once you have speed read a section, if you desire, you can go back over particularly relevant sections and make notes or highlight vital pieces of text.

The third time - The final time in the three times rule is to go back and only read your notes or highlighted text. As the year progresses, not only will you have to go back over the chapter on inertia but you will have to go back over most of the chapters in your book. By highlighting the absolutely relevant sections of text, you have immensely cut down your future revision time as in future you will know that you only need to read the highlighted sections. What a relief this will be when it comes time to prepare for tests and exams.

Highlighting text books effectively

Highlighting text sound easy but it is amazing how many people highlight entire chapters or even the whole text book. Research has shown that highlighting does not help you remember information but it can help you to review more effectively. The key to highlighting is to a) highlight only the most relevant, absolutely vital words and phrases and b)to highlight in a way that in future allows you to only read the highlighted areas and it still makes sense and c) use a highlighting pen, not a pencil or pen.

Highlighting only the essential material is so important. If after reading a sub section you realise that only 3 paragraphs really tell you anything of value, then only highlight these three paragraphs and leave the rest blank. You also need to highlight in a way that makes sense. For example you may highlight the first sentence of the first paragraph in a sub section and then three other paragraphs. The reason for highlighting that first line is that it gives you a context for reading the other highlighted areas and now means that you can read just the highlighted areas and the whole thing still fits together to make sense. Finally, use a proper highlighting pen as ruling lines often gets distracting to a reader and will reduce your enjoyment of going over your highlighted text areas.


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